Towards a society of consumers? Regulating the meat market in late- and post-corporative Brussels (1770-1860)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


In his 1976 seminal work on the political economy of bread, Steven Kaplan stressed the crucial evolution of liberalization, according to him accompanied by a shift in ideas of government responsibility. As early modern regulation was quickly abolished, subsistence was no longer deemed a government responsibility, but an issue for individuals to work out for themselves. Both intertwined ideas of deregulation and shifting government responsibility have remained dominant in the literature on urban provisioning as scholarly research, much as the nineteenth-century deregulation itself, spread out from grain and bread to other foodstuffs. (Persson 1999, Turkkan 2021)

Meat, however, poses this thesis with a number of problems. Uniquely perishable, intensely regulated and considered by contemporaries as second in importance only to bread, research has shown such deregulations were quickly followed by a new regulatory regime focused on slaughter (Horowitz, Pilcher and Watts 2004; Baics 2016).

Taking Brussels in the first half of the nineteenth century as a case, this paper seeks to assess the role of ‘the consumer’ as a discursive category in this transforming regulation. As the early modern framework was abolished in parallel with a new slaughter regime, it explores the discourse which made this regulatory transformation possible. Delving into legislative texts, debates among lawmakers and appeals to them it seeks to assess the importance of consumer interest as convincing argument. In doing so, it reveals the emergence of a new public discourse centred on consumer interest. As even butchers learned, to get their interests adopted into policy, they needed to be formulated as being in the consumers’ interests.
Period19 May 2023
Event titleJournées internationales de la Société d'histoire du droit et des institutions des pays flamands, picards et wallons: 'Boire et Manger'
Event typeConference
LocationLille, France
Degree of RecognitionInternational